Marquise Goodwin was at a friend's 40th birthday party last year when the thought of returning to his favorite sport first crossed his mind. Goodwin hadn't participated in track and field since he finished a disappointing 10th in the long jump at the 2012 Olympics, less than a month before his senior year at the University of Texas. After that, he had concentrated solely on football. He still is.
But at that point, he was entering his third season as a Buffalo Bills wide receiver and was making much more money than he could have earned if he had stuck with track. He was, for the most part, happy with his life even though his NFL career had been, and remains, plagued by injury. Still, on that day last spring at the birthday party, his competitive juices took over. As Goodwin and his friends were messing around on the basketball court, he grabbed the ball and decided to test himself. Goodwin, who is 5-foot-9, jumped from near the foul line and just missed an improbable dunk. The failed attempt didn't deter him.
"It just showed that I still had a little bit of juice," Goodwin said. "I was like, 'Maybe if I go out there and practice a little bit, I can go make something happen.'"
And thus began a journey that Goodwin is taking seriously, and one he hopes ends with another shot at an Olympic gold medal. At the U.S. outdoor championships last June, Goodwin finished fourth, leaping a personal-best 27 feet, 5 ½ inches in his first meet in three years. Four weeks later, he won the silver medal at the Pan American Games by jumping 27 feet, 1 inch.
Buoyed by those two performances, Goodwin knew his track career was far from over, even as he reported to the Bills' summer camp. The injuries continued to stack up—Goodwin hurt his ribs in Buffalo's third preseason game in late August, returned the next month, then wound up on the season-ending injured reserve list in October with another rib injury. Despite the setbacks, Goodwin said the Bills were fine with his track comeback, particularly coach Rex Ryan.
"He kind of pushed me to pursue the Olympics this year," Goodwin said. "He thought it was a great idea that I come out and represent the U.S. He thinks it's crazy if I don't take advantage of the opportunity."
Soon after Goodwin's ribs healed in early January, he started working out a few days a week at the Michael Johnson Performance facility near Dallas with trainer Austin Kirpes, a longtime friend and football teammate at Rowlett High School in Texas. Back then, the football team used to lift weights throughout the offseason, but Goodwin didn't have to do so because he was on the track squad. Near the end of the weeks-long training, Goodwin joined his teammates. He beat them all in the squat, even though he hadn't lifted in months.
"It shows you how much of an athletic freak that he is," Kirpes said. "He's a monster. I call him the prototype."
Goodwin is also working with Dwight Phillips, the long jump gold medalist at the 2004 Olympics. The two met at the 2009 U.S. track championships, where Phillips won with a jump of 28 feet, 1 ½ inches and Goodwin finished fifth and set a national high school-record with a jump of 26 feet, 10 inches. Since then, Phillips has served as Goodwin's mentor. He gave Goodwin advice when he enrolled in college on a track scholarship and wanted to play two sports. During Goodwin's recruiting trip to Texas, Goodwin met with the football coaches and asked if he could try out for the team.
"Once he signed, got on campus, and came out to his first football practice in August, you could see how explosive he was," former Texas football coach Mack Brown wrote in an email. "I remember watching him run drills in shorts that day, and I said to our staff, 'If he can move like that in pads, wow, he'll be something.' And we found out he could."
As a freshman, Goodwin played a major role and helped the Longhorns to an undefeated regular season. During a 37-21 loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS national championship game, Goodwin caught three passes for 70 yards and returned three kicks for 62 more. A few months later, he won the NCAA outdoor long jump title. He continued splitting his time between both sports and set a goal: win the 2012 Olympic gold medal, retire from track and play in the NFL. It was ambitious, but it wasn't unrealistic.
Goodwin, who placed first in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, qualified for the Olympic final on his first preliminary round jump and was considered a medal favorite. But during the final round, he finished 10th out of 12 competitors with a best jump of 25 feet, 7 ¼ inches. Texas track coach Mario Sategna remembers running into former Texas star and Olympic 400-meter gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross on his way to talk to Goodwin.
"She said, 'How did Marquise do?,'" Sategna said "I said he didn't medal. She's talked with Marquise enough to know it was all or none. You could see the look on her face like, 'Oh, no.' When I finally met up with Marquise... you try to console a guy. He walked out of there just feeling like a failure, completely dejected."
Goodwin returned to school, had a productive senior season with the Longhorns, skipped track, and then ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.27 seconds) at the NFL combine. Even after he was selected in the third round and got to work on his NFL dream, his frustration from the Olympics lingered.
"It was a disappointment, man," Goodwin said. "I just can't dwell on it. I dwelled on it for so long. I didn't make the most of the opportunity. I took it way too serious. Even though I'm supposed to take it serious, I was way too uptight. I should've relaxed like I am now. Win, lose, or draw just walk off knowing that I gave it my all. I didn't approach it like that. I approached it like I was meeting a President or something."
Goodwin said he's in a better state of mind now as he prepares for another shot at Olympic glory. He still has one year left on his Bills' deal and plans on reporting to mini-camps and fulfilling his mandatory NFL commitments. In three seasons, he's only caught 20 passes and appeared in 24 games because of numerous injuries. Football is still his job, but tending to his Olympic dream means he'll need to proceed with caution during practice.
"I won't put myself in a position to get hurt to mess up my opportunity," Goodwin said. "This is a once in a lifetime deal. I've got to be really healthy. I know football is number one, obviously, as I have a contractual agreement with them. I'm going to fill my obligations for football. But track is something that I just have to do for me. It's not for nobody else. It's not for my Mom or my wife or my sister or even coaches."
Goodwin, 25, has had a good track season so far, especially considering he's coming off those rib injuries and only started training in early January. He won the Rod McCravy Invitational in Kentucky with a jump of 26 feet, 2 ¾ inches on January 22 and, eight days after his marriage to former Texas track star Morgan Snow, he placed third in the prestigious Millrose Games in New York with a jump of 25 feet, 8 inches on February 20.
For now, Goodwin is training with Phillips at the IMG Academy in Florida and preparing for the U.S. indoor championships, which are being held on March 11 and 12 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. That same venue will host the world indoor championships a week later.
When Goodwin can't be with Phillips in person, he sends him videos of his training sessions. Phillips also designs Goodwin's workouts when he's on the road. Phillips works with Goodwin on the mental side of the sport, too. He can speak from experience: Phillips took the disappointment of his own eighth-place finish in the 2000 Olympics and used it as motivation to win the gold at the 2004 Olympics. "I told him it's not going to be easy [winning a gold medal] and no one's going to give it to him," Phillips said. "He's gonna have to go out there and really earn what he feels is his. He understands it's gonna be hard, but he's willing to put in the work."
After the Millrose Games, Goodwin reminisced about how as a nine-year-old he watched the 2000 Summer Olympics, saw Maurice Greene and Marion Jones win gold medals, and envisioned himself following in their footsteps someday. There is still some rust on Goodwin—he had struggled a bit that afternoon getting accustomed to the long jump pit and had jumped a foot behind the board, and is still working on his technique and getting into shape. Still, Goodwin has not given up on the dream he had 16 years ago. Given that he's one of the few gifted humans whose dreams of Olympic gold qualify as reasonable, it's hard to count him out.
"I miss track and field," Goodwin said. "This is my first love. Everybody knows that. It's no secret. I'm just glad to be back out here."